Custody Decided for Child of Murder-Suicide NFL Player

Nearly seven months after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and committed suicide, a court has decided who will raise the infant daughter the couple left behind.

A Kansas City commissioner has awarded custody of 9-month-old Zoey Belcher to Sophie Perkins, a cousin of Zoey’s mother, Kasandra Perkins. Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, also sought custody of Zoey.

On Dec. 1, 2012, Belcher shot Kasandra Perkins in the bedroom of their Independence, Mo. home. Shepherd, who had been living with the couple for about two weeks, was in the home at the time and heard the couple arguing before gunshots rang out.

Shepherd ran to the bedroom, where she saw Belcher apologizing and kissing Perkins as she lay bleeding. Belcher then apologized to his mother, kissed his daughter and fled the home in his Bentley.

Belcher drove to the Chiefs practice facility at Arrowhead Stadium, where he exited his vehicle holding a gun to his head. He encountered the team’s general manager, head coach and other team staff, who pleaded with Belcher to put the gun down.

As police sirens closed in, Belcher walked away from his colleagues, knelt behind a parked car and fatally shot himself.


Tough Call for Commissioner

In the immediate aftermath of the murder-suicide, police left Zoey in Shepherd’s care. But on Dec. 3, Shepherd signed an agreement granting temporary guardianship to Sophie Perkins so Zoey could attend her mother’s funeral services in Texas. After the funeral, Perkins kept Zoey in Texas and applied for guardianship while Shepherd did the same in her home state of New York.

A factor in Zoey’s custody is her inheritance, which has grown beyond $3 million. In addition to Belcher’s $1.2 million life insurance policy, Zoey will receive annual payments from the NFL until she’s at least 18. The owners, coaches, players and staff of the Chiefs have also established a separate trust fund for her care.

Jackson County Probate Commissioner Daniel Wheeler had a difficult decision in awarding custody, writing in his ruling that both Perkins and Shepherd were clearly sincere in their concern for Zoey despite her substantial inheritance.

“The only possible selfish motive both parties could have is their desire to have the child with them, on a daily basis, so they can care, nourish and love the child,” he wrote.


Calls to Police at Issue

Wheeler ultimately found that Perkins would “provide a more structured and stable approach to caring” for Zoey. In his decision, Wheeler noted that Zoey has bonded with Perkins over the last several months.

Wheeler also noted the number of times police have been called to Shepherd’s home over the last two decades. Perkins’ attorneys emphasized this issue in their case.

“While not controlling, and while not making Ms. Shepherd’s home inappropriate to raise [Zoey], the Court concludes that this is evidence of Ms. Sophie Perkins’ home being more stable than Ms. Shepherd’s home, and this favors the appointment of Ms. Perkins as guardian,” Wheeler wrote.


Best Interests of the Child

Texas attorney Rick Robertson said Shepherd’s decision to sign temporary guardianship over to Perkins ultimately undermined her own bid for custody of Zoey.

Rick Robertson

“It is not just the act of signing the guardianship affidavit itself, but in combination with her tacit consent to go ahead and let the child stay with [Perkins] for a long time thereafter, it demonstrates a certain comfort level,” Robertson said. “The longer they have the child, the greater weight is given to the job the guardian has done as a parent.”

Since both homes were deemed acceptable by Wheeler, greater weight was assigned to details like the history of police responses to Shepherd’s home. Perkins’ attorneys also highlighted Shepherd’s smoking habit, and Shepherd’s attorneys noted the number of hours Zoey spent in daycare while Perkins was at work.

Thomas Simeone

“In cases where more than one suitable environment is available, the issue often does come down to relatively minor differences,” said Washington, D.C. attorney Thomas J. Simeone. “In this case, since the child has a $3.5 million dollar trust fund, income is likely not a major issue. That money will provide money to care for the child; the parents simply need to support themselves, as they have done.”

What do you think of the commissioner’s decision in Zoey Belcher’s custody case? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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